SINGAPORE — An executive in charge of a firm’s payroll system made false claims including bogus “transport” and “handphone” allowances of more than S$136,000 (RM473,659) over 12 months. She also pocketed cheques worth about S$3,000.

Tan Lee Nah, 53, pleaded guilty today to two cheating charges for submitting false claims and one charge of criminal breach of trust for encashing two cheques.

Tan was sentenced to 18 months and six weeks’ jail for her offences by a judge who said she treated the company’s coffers like her “personal piggy bank”.

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Another 18 similar cheating charges were taken into consideration for sentencing.

She had submitted the false claims while working as a human resources (HR) executive at D’Perception Singapore, an interior design firm. During the period of her offending, she was promoted to the position of HR associate director.

What happened

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The court heard that Tan was in charge of the company’s entire payroll and was the only person with password access to the payroll system.

While employees’ basic salaries were stated on a spreadsheet signed and countersigned by the company’s managing director and chairman respectively, employee allowances were indicated only on payslips emailed to employees.

In November 2018, Tan entered false claims to the company for a “transport allowance” of S$4,000 and “extra allowance” of S$1,500 into the payroll system.

The next month, she entered false claims of the same amount into the system, gaining a total of S$11,000.

Over January to November 2019, Tan continued to make multiple false claims to the company under various categories, including “handphone allowance”, “paid annual leave”, “backpay handphone allowance” and “back pay of basic”.

The total sum of the false claims over the 11 months amounted to S$125,293.08.

Her first offences were a couple of years earlier, in August 2017, when Tan was given two cheques and tasked to transfer these amounts to the Central Provident Fund (CPF).

The Citibank cheque of S$1,573 and Standard Chartered bank cheque of S$1,574 were to pay for two months of CPF contributions for a new employee from a furniture company registered by D’Perception Singapore.

However, Tan misappropriated the cheques and encashed them in her own account, pocketing the S$3,147.

Discovery of her offences

In November 2019, the managing director of the company was informed that Tan had printed out a copy of her salary statement on the company’s printer, which showed that she had received allowances on top of her basic salary.

The managing director informed the company’s finance director that he had noticed discrepancies in Tan’s payslip, including allowances she was not entitled to claim.

Upon retrieving Tan’s payslips, the finance director discovered she had been embezzling funds from the company since May 2017, when she was a human resource manager. He then filed a police report.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Lu Huiyi sought a sentence of between 18 months and six weeks’ jail, and 18 months and eight weeks’ jail for Tan, given that her offences spanned more than two years.

The woman’s lawyer, Mr John Koh of Populus Law Corporation, sought a lighter sentence of 15 months and six weeks’ jail, arguing that Tan was “deeply remorseful” for her actions and had pleaded guilty at an early stage.

He added that Tan had taken the funds “out of desperation”, as she used the money to offset payments for her child’s education and her elderly parents’ medical expenses.

In sentencing, District Judge Terence Tay said that Tan had abused the trust of her company for over two years, counting the 18 charges taken into consideration, and had “dipped into the company’s coffers like her personal piggy bank”.

He noted that no restitution had been made by Tan to her company, as she lacked the financial means to do so.

For each charge of cheating, Tan could have been jailed for up to 10 years and fined.

Any employee who commits criminal breach of trust can be jailed for up to 15 years and be fined. — TODAY